May 2016 – Banff National Park is the heart of the Canadian Rockies, and Lake Louise is at the very center of that heart. After we took our RV through the wonderful mountain scenery of Kootenay National Park, our appetites had been whetted by all the gorgeous snowcapped peaks rising up in the distance, and we were ready to slow down and see them up close. Lake Louise was the ideal spot.
Lake Louise is a turquoise lake tucked into a circle of snowcapped mountains, and at dawn we found the water was glassy smooth and utterly clear.
This is a top tourist destination, and from just after sunrise until well after dark it is loaded to the gills with people from all over the world. But during the pre-dawn hours of quiet mornings in mid-May, we found ourselves sharing the lake with just a few other people, all with cameras aimed across the lake.
The early morning rays of sun cast a pink and orange glow on the snow covered peaks in the distance. The air was calm, and the few people down at the lake were silent as they gazed across the water. When we spoke, we whispered. There was a special, intimate aura among us all, an acknowledgement that this was a unique moment we would all remember.
Just a few steps behind us, the enormous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel rose up to towering heights, and slowly came to life.
Hotel guests made their way down to the water’s edge to join us admiring the lake. Soon, tourists began to descend on the shore by the dozens. Our magical few minutes of privacy with the sunrise by the lake had passed.
Not long after, the tourist buses began to arrive, disgorging fifty selfie-stick wielding tourists at a whack. We left the shore and wandered inside the hotel to explore its luxurious and posh interior.
This is an elegant hotel with a beautiful dining room that overlooks the lake. What a spot for a meal!
Lake Louise is best enjoyed outdoors, though, and there are lots of bright red canoes for rent at the boat dock. One by one, the canoes paddled out onto the lake.
We followed the shoreline trail for a ways, with one eye on the path in front of us and the other peering between the trees at the shockingly bright turquoise water.
Dandelions were in full bloom and filled a hillside. Whoever thought dandelions could add so much to a scene?!
Lake Louise was first explored by Swiss mountaineers, and it soon became a tourist destination. Two tea houses were built up in the hills as destinations for hikers where they could get a yummy bite to eat and have a place to hike to besides just “the top.”
We took the trail that heads to the Lake Agnes Tea House, and it climbed steadily for quite a ways.
The mountain peaks were breathtaking — and the trail got us huffing and puffing and out of breath too!
Eventually, we came to a small lake. Mark climbed up on a pair of stumps for a better view.
Some other hikers came along behind us and got our pic leaning against these stumps. Even though it was the off-season and it was a cold, gray day, there were a lot of hikers on the trail. I can only imagine how busy this trail must be on a gorgeous, sunny day in July!
Just a little further on we came to Lake Agnes. There was still a lot of ice on the water, but the edges near the trail on the shore were crystal clear.
Apparently, the Lake Agnes Tea House is extremely popular when it opens in the summertime. The workers who staff it stay there during the work week and hike down to the Lake Louise village on their days off (or do more adventurous hikes into the mountains starting from the Lake Agnes Tea House).
Many of the goods for the restaurant are brought up by horses and wagons on a different trail, but a lot of the provisioning is done by workers who hike up and down this steep trail carrying heavy loads alongside the tourists.
The wildlife stays on the mountain year round, of course, and a chipmunk came over to see if we’d carried up a snack for him.
The Lake Agnes Tea House wasn’t going to open for another two weeks when we were there, but the hike was still really enjoyable.
A cup of hot tea at the Tea House would have been very welcome. After we’d been up there tip-toeing around the ice and snow and taking photos for a while, I was chilled to the bone. And then it began to drizzle!
We’ve heard the baked goodies that come out of the Lake Agnes Tea House kitchen are very tasty. But we made do with our water bottles and protein bars in our packs. Sigh.
The amazing thing about Lake Louise is that after you look at it for a while, you get used to the stunningly vivid turquoise color. But each time you look away and then look back again, your jaw drops. And so it happened as we hiked back down to the lake.
The trees opened up as we neared the lake and the incredible color was right there in front of us once again.
We returned to the shoreline of Lake Louise at dawn and at dusk several times and saw the lake in both sunshine and rain. Each time the beauty of the whole area caught us off guard.
It didn’t matter if we were sharing the lake with two hundred other awe-struck tourists or with just two or three other photographers who were as determined as we were to capture its beauty on camera, this place was incredible.
Lake Louise RV & Camping Info
For RVers heading to Lake Louise, there is a National Park campground next to the village that is fairly big rig friendly and has electric and water hookups as well as slightly lower pricing for dry camping in those same sites if you choose not to plug in.
Most of the campsites are surrounded by trees, so RVs with solar power may not get much sunshine. The campsites are all double-wide with two rigs sharing a single pull-through, coming from opposite directions, with power pedestals on the outsides (it can be a tight squeeze between neighbors).
During the off-season, payment is made at a self-pay kiosk at the entrance (American credit cards accepted, just write the number on the envelope), however during high season the entrance booth is manned.
For the few weeks in mid to late May that we were there, the campground was less than half full every weeknight, and almost every RV had a double-wide site to itself. On the weekends it was busier. May Long Weekend (Victoria Day), the weekend before America’s Memorial Day, it promised to be packed with visitors from nearby Calgary, but cold rain kept them away this year.
Virtually all of the RVs we saw were rental units. Later in the season, reservations are a must, and the campground is full every night. Once the kids are out of school in late June, the RV fleet becomes a mix of personally owned family RVs and rental units.
There is a dump station that is the biggest RV dump station we have ever seen anywhere, with six stations lined up side by side!
Lake Louise Village is essentially a strip mall with a handful of boutique tourist shops. There is a grocery store that caters to the young, hip, hiking crowd, offering all the fancy gourmet goodies you might long for at prices that are significantly north of their normally high costs. So, for the budget conscious, get provisioned up before you arrive.
May weather is very unpredictable. During our stay we saw highs ranging from the high 40’s (Fahrenheit) to the low 80’s and lows as low as the low 20’s. We saw sleet, snow, rain, and beautiful bright warm sunshine too.
Many, if not most, of the hiking trails were closed in the pre-season due to avalanche activity, and some of the roads were closed too. However, the trade-off was that the crowds were manageable and we could always find a place to park and a place to put our tripod for a photo, something we’ve heard can be challenging during the warmer and more popular midsummer months of July and August.
More info and links below and more Canadian Rockies blog posts coming soon!
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Here is some more info about Lake Louise:
- Lake Louise Tourism Website
- Lake Louise Campground Info
- Lake Agnes Tea House Info
- Location of Lake Louise on Google Maps
- What and When is Canada’s May Long Weekend? – All of Calgary visits Lake Louise then if it is sunny and warm!
Related blog posts about Canada, the Canadian Rockies and Photography:
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